Over 14,000 people and nearly 350 exhibitors descended on Detroit’s Cobo Center March 27th-31st for the 45th Annual Convention of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). It broke the all-time record for both attendance and number of exhibitors, and it featured people from all over the country.
“It’s important, because it shows that black engineers exist, and they’re doing great things,” said Herbert Winful, the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of ECE, who was a featured panelist at the event. “And for the underrepresented minority engineers and scientists, it’s nice to have a community. You can see other people who look like you.”
It’s important, because it shows that black engineers exist, and they’re doing great things.Herbert Winful, the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of ECE
The convention brought together everyone from high school students just beginning their journey to veteran professionals. The career-focused event included workshops, career and academic panels, and competitions where hundreds of student teams competed in a variety of disciplines from robotics to math.
The University of Michigan had a strong presence, hosting workshops, demonstrations, and networking events. Alec Gallimore, the Robert J Vlasic Dean of Engineering, was a featured speaker and shared how his love of Star Trek and Star Wars inspired him to pursue a career in aerospace engineering.
The convention also included events for working professionals who were looking to network or share their experiences navigating industry or academia. The numbers of underrepresented minority engineers as faculty and PhD researchers has increased at a much slower rate than the growth of minority engineers with bachelors and master’s degrees, so several workshops focused on careers in academia, including the process of becoming a professor.
Prof. Winful was a panelist for the U-M GRAD lab, which featured information about grad school and GEM – a network of leading corporations, government laboratories, top universities, and top research institutions that enables qualified students from underrepresented communities to pursue graduate education in applied science and engineering.
“For the University of Michigan, being able to connect with all these engineers is an opportunity to have some of them come here and become graduate students,” Prof. Winful said. “Where else would you find so many qualified underrepresented minority engineers in one place?”
An entire room was dedicated to the “Wolverine Den,” which hosted a U-M alumni reception. The turnout was so great that there was a line out the door.
“It was really amazing to see all the alumni and what they’d accomplished,” said Kwesi Rutledge, a 2nd year ECE PhD student, who also earned his undergraduate degree in EE from U-M. “Some were professors and some were currently in industry. Being able to connect with current Michigan professors and administrators was something really special. Definitely blew my expectations out of the water.”
Jessy Grizzle, the Elmer G. Gilbert Distinguished University Professor, Director of Michigan Robotics, and a professor of ECE, kicked the event off with a presentation and demonstration of Cassie, U-M’s bipedal robot. Attendees were given a hands-on experience where they were able to test how the robot balances by pushing it. Afterwards, there was a 30-minute Q and A.
“It was the most engaging Q and A I’ve ever been a part of,” Prof. Grizzle said. “The breadth and the depth of the questions were so impressive. It was super fun.”
It was the most engaging Q and A I’ve ever been a part of. The breadth and the depth of the questions were so impressive.Jessy Grizzle, the Elmer G. Gilbert Distinguished University Professor, Director of Michigan Robotics, and a professor of ECE
Alum Erin Teague (BSE CE ’04), who is Head of Product for YouTube VR and AR at Google, was featured on a career panel. She spoke about the importance of giving credit where it’s due, and she drew on her own experiences of being talked over or ignored in meetings. She spoke about how ideas and comments are often only given attention if a man says them, and she offered ways everyone can help combat that environment. For Rutledge, panels like Teague’s that focused on intersectionality were a highlight.
“I really appreciate those conversations where they talked about how we’re all black, but we’re all diverse, and our experiences are different,” Rutledge said.
Teague also emphasized the supportiveness of the U-M community and how it gives her a commonality wherever she goes – a sentiment echoed in the many recruitment events hosted by U-M’s chapter of NSBE and the Office of Student Affairs. At these events, recruitment officers, current students, and faculty met with students of all ages to talk about the programs and highlight the paths to U-M.
“It was really cool to see all the people excited about going into graduate school,” Rutledge said. “I think they really appreciated hearing from a current student about what a difference it makes to be at Michigan.”
For Prof. Grizzle, getting to interact with prospective students was one of the best parts of the event.
“For us as faculty to go there and talk to the students about what we’re doing and the university – it’s just a very fun event,” said Prof. Grizzle. “As soon as the students understand what Michigan has to offer, it’s exciting for me to see their own excitement grow.”